Acquitting 14 people of charges of murder, causing grievous hurt, unlawful assembly and possession of arms, the Supreme Court has asked its sub-ordinate courts to exercise extra care in cases involving rivalry and enmity.
“It is an accepted proposition that in the case of group rivalries and enmities, there is a general tendency to rope in as many people as possible as having participated in the assault. In such situations, the courts are called upon to be cautious and sift the evidence with care,” the SC observed.
A division bench of Justice V.S. Sirpurkar and Justice Dr Mukundakam Sharma observed: “Where after a close scrutiny of the evidence, reasonable doubt arises in the mind of the court with regard to the participation of any of those who have been roped in, the court would be obliged to give the benefit of doubt to them.”
The case dates to September 12, 2003, when a mob of 75 to 100 people attacked a rival group over the dispute of ownership of land and control of a temple of Khandoba in Kamatwadi village near Ahmednagar.
In the incident, two people were killed and 23 injured.
Initially, an FIR was lodged against 36 people.
On September 10, 2004, an ad-hoc additional sessions judge convicted 35 people and sentenced them to life imprisonment. One person was acquitted. The 35 challenged their sentence before the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court.
On March 14, 2006, the high court upheld conviction of 14 people and acquitted the rest.
The 14 challenged their conviction before the SC. Their counsel, U.R. Lalit, argued that evidence against the original 36 was of similar nature.
The SC observed that in the melee, even the eye-witnesses would not have been able to see who injured them, however, it added that the benefit of doubt needs to be given to 14 people where 22 others have been let off.